LITTLE BIGHORN BATTLEFIELD NATIONAL MONUMENT
Now, as a woman in her 60s, I still like to watch an occasional western, but mostly I enjoy traveling around the country and discovering or rediscovering historical sites to see what I can learn and to see if what I learn alters what I thought I knew about the place.
This is what happened this year when my husband and I took several road trips in our VW camper (“Our Blue Heaven”), covering thousands of miles all over the United States. One of the many memorable places we visited was Little Bighorn Battlefield, a national park in Crow Agency, Montana, featuring not only the battlefield where Custer and over 200 of his men fell along with numerous Indians of various tribes , but also the Reno-Benteen Entrenchment Trail, the Indian Memorial (yes, that’s its name), and Custer National Cemetery.
Sadly, what I knew or remembered about “Custer’s Last Stand” from my history classes, I could have written on the back of a postcard. With room left to draw a picture or two. But after exploring the Visitor Center, with its dioramas, maps, artifacts, and film, I had a better understanding of the events that took place on this wide expanse of southeastern Montana on June 25-26, 1876.
Many historians believe that the Battle of Little Bighorn did not end on top of “Last Stand Hill” but in “Deep Ravine,” several hundred yards below the hill. Another pathway leads through the prairie to this ravine, with warnings not to stray because of the rattlesnakes’ habitat! Didn’t have to remind me twice! However, some visitors disregarded the sign and we can only hope that they did not cross paths with any venomous critters.
From the trails winding around the outer borders of the entrenchment area, one can imagine the improvised field hospital in the center, designated with a red cross marker; the rifle pits and trenches, with dead horses and mules piled on them to add cover; the volunteers trying to get water from the river to the injured soldiers, who had been without it for hours; and the retreat crossing of the 7th Cavalry, with Crazy Horse, Wooden Leg, Black Elk and hundreds of warriors in pursuit.